Princeton council sets July 27 as date for firehouse reauction

June 22, 1993 (~estimated)

Princeton council sets July 27 as date for firehouse reauction

By Laurie Lynn Strasser

Staff Writer

The Chambers Street firehouse could be demolished after it is reauctioned this summer.

Princeton Borough Tuesday set July 27 as the date for the second, auction of the deteriorating structure.

The 50-year-old building first went on the block in November 1992, but high bidder Rysia de Ravel retracted her offer in May.

Borough Council designated $500,000 as the minimum hid for the second auction because that was t Ms. de Ravel’s maximum bid from the first one.

Assuming someone meets the minimum this time around, the sale would close in September at the earliest, borough Mayor Marvin Reed said.

“We may have bidders who want to tear the building down,” he said. “Five hundred thousand dollars is not that high a price for a piece of land that size.”

The 8,800-square-foot firehouse, which sits on a 3,000-square-foot lot, was appraised at $1.3 million, but it could be worth $200,000 more or less, Mayor Reed said before the first auction. Ms. de Ravel, a Lawrenceville entrepreneur, estimated that it would cost $500,000 just to bring the building up to code, and $1.5 million to turn it into a showcase.

She obtained a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment that allows the building to be used as an office on all three floors. Since the variance was granted to the owner, the borough can pass it on to any buyer.

Ms. de Ravel claimed she could not follow through with the deal because she was unable to obtain from neighbors an easement across their property in case the firehouse caught fire.

The borough had made the sale contingent on the easement, which would have been necessary to convert the firehouse into a restaurant. Members of Borough Council had figured they would earn top dollar on the building if it were sold for such a use.

As it turned out,, Ms. de Ravel Wanted to renovate the structure, not as a restaurant, but as the new headquarters of her Manhattan conference-calling firm, and possibly as her home. She decided against closing on the deal after she re-located her telecommunications company to the building across the street from the firehouse, and bought a house on Cleveland Lane as her residence.

With the benefit of hindsight, the borough has decided against making the easement a condition of sale again. If the firehouse is used as something other than a restaurant, the fire code could be met by altering the internal floor plan or building a fire escape in front.

To meet fire regulations, Mayor Reed said, the buyer probably will have to sacrifice the 50-year-old building’s facade, with its double bay doors, third-floor windows and fancy scrollwork.

“The buyer backed out for no good reason,” Councilman Mark Freda said. “The easement is in no way needed in order to use this as an office building. I just want to make this clear to potential buyers.”

The Borough Council’s resolution stating the date and conditions of sale has been forwarded to the Princeton Township Committee for approval.

Permission from the township is needed since the two municipalities plan to use proceeds of the sale to repay the debt on the new Witherspoon Street fire station.

Committee members already agreed, at their May 24 meeting, that the building should he reauctioned, said Township Administrator James Pascale.

The township and borough each opted to sell the building despite requests from the Downtown Teen Center that it be used instead as a headquarters for local non-profit agencies.

“I think it’s very important that the firehouse be sold so we have money to use for the price of our new firehouse, which was the original plan, and I’m hoping that we have a better market than we did before,” said Township Deputy Mayor Phyllis Marchand. “Maybe Princeton will look much nicer in July than in the wintertime.”

Councilmen David Goldfarb and Roger Martindell were the only two council members to vote against auctioning the firehouse this summer.

Mr. Martindell thought the borough could have done more to facilitate the sale by negotiating with Princeton University to give an easement to Ms. de Ravel.

Claiming that the aging structure will seem “100 times worse” while the road repairs are under way,” Mr. Goldfarb said the property would fetch a better price in the fall, after an overhaul of Chambers Street is finished.

“If the building sells for half a million and we invest that at 3 percent, it will yield $15,000 a year,” he reasoned. “If we wait three months, the cost is $3,500, less than 1 percent of the value of the building.”

Councilman Mark Freda disagreed.

“Somebody that’s buying a commercial property is not going to be scared off by the fact that they’re digging up the road,” he said.

Councilwoman Jane Terpstra said the buyer would benefit from the new road, sidewalks, and lamp posts without having to pay the special assessment for the improvements.

The borough resolved that Coldwell Banker Schlott, the real estate firm that handled the first auction, will take care of marketing once again. Coldwell banker will take a 5 percent commission, only if the deal closes.

The firehouse was advertised throughout the New York metropolitan area before the first auction, but generated mainly local interest. A pinch auctioneer had to conduct the November auction because the designated auctioneer was two hours late due to traffic.

This time, CounCilman Ray Wadsworth said, the auctioneer should take pains to arrive on time.

“We’d better sell it before it falls down,” he said.

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